Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background
Slide background

October 2018 was a month of crisis for Trump’s Presidency. Brett Kavanaugh had just been sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice, despite credible allegations that he had sexually assaulted at least one woman (Christine Blasey), was a heavy drinker in his youth and had lied to Congress during his confirmation hearing. After a mere week of F.B.I. investigation into the new allegations, Kavanaugh was confirmed.

Around this time, details began to emerge about the disappearance of a Saudi-born U.S. permanent resident; Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi had entered the Saudi consulate building in Turkey on October 2nd and was never seen again (after changing their account of the situation more than once, the Saudi Government finally admitted that he had been murdered in the consulate building. Despite the C.I.A. declaring that there was a high probability that the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (de facto authoritarian ruler of Saudi Arabia) was complicit in the murder of Khashoggi, Trump refused to believe the findings of the intelligence community or cut relations with Bin Salman.

As international outrage increased over Khashoggi’s murder, pressure was building on President Trump to condemn Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MBS) probable knowledge of the plan to kill Khashoggi. Trump’s response was to equate the plight of MBS with the plight of Brett Kavanaugh in his recent senate judicial committee hearings amidst accusations of sexual misconduct. In each case, Trump claimed that the accused person was being treated as ‘guilty until proven innocent’, contrary to the supposed American legal tradition of innocent until proven guilty (despite the lack of any meaningful investigation by the FBI regarding Kavanaugh, or by the Saudis regarding Khashoggi).

Trump then proceeded to praise Senator Gianforte at a rally in Montana for having body-slammed Ben Jacobs, a journalist working for The Guardian. The juxtaposition of his reluctance to criticize MBS directly or the Saudi Government (a theocratic dictatorship) in general in a serious way (not wanting to jeopardize arms deals with Saudi Arabia) whilst laughing about Gianforte body-slamming a journalist was interpreted by mainstream media as egregiously morally improper conduct on the part of a President of the United States. Traditionally America has been viewed around the world (despite slavery, racism and McCarthyism) as a moral champion for freedom of speech and respect for human rights they claimed, portraying itself as such to the world.

Next came the pipe-bombs mailed to the Obamas and Clintons, and several other prominent democrats – people perceived as Trump critics. A vehement Trump supporter was apprehended after an (unfettered) FBI investigation in connection with the pipe-bombs (none of which exploded), thus quashing the ‘false-flag’ idea put forward on Fox ‘News’ that this was all a Democratic Party conspiracy to make Republicans look bad a week or so before the November 6, 2018 mid-term elections.

President Trump’s response to this domestic act of terrorism was to blame the media’s ‘deliberate fake-news’ for the toxic political climate. This led to much discussion on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and online outlets such as Democracy Now, The Humanist Report, The Jimmy Dore show etc. as to whether Trump’s accusation had any merit. The mainstream/online media overwhelmingly rejected Trump’s assertion, suggesting that Trump’s rhetoric/deeds as President have fomented racial hatred in America (not to mention destabilizing America’s treaties/relations with long-standing international partners). Trump needed to ‘look in the mirror’ was the consensus view: words matter – especially if one is President.

Then came the synagogue attack in Pittsburg, in which 11 people were killed. Just the previous week, Trump had declared himself to be a ‘nationalist’ not a ‘globalist’ (which for years has been seen as pro-Jewish). Did Trump know what ‘nationalist’ meant in general or was likely to be specifically interpreted as amongst extremists? (Relatedly, did Brett Kavanaugh know what the terms ‘baufing’ and ‘devil’s triangle’ mean?) As CNN corporate media host Chris Cuomo (on his ‘Prime Time’ show) reminded us, George Orwell had indicated in the context of the second world war, patriotism and nationalism are distinct concepts. Patriotism concerns a love of a location and its culture – it is essentially defensive. Nationalism on the other hand is essentially concerned with a desire for power; it is easily latched onto by white nationalist / white supremacist groups who care little for subtle semantic nuances. The President has a responsibility to be aware of these possible semantic misunderstandings. Cuomo rightly accused President Trump of failing regarding this responsibility whilst ironically working for a corporate media network that was instrumental in rigging the 2016 Democratic primaries in favor of war hawk Hillary Clinton who had advocated the ‘bringing to heel’ of ‘super-predators’ (young African Americans).

In response to the synagogue tragedy, Trump blamed the deaths on the victims, claiming that if there had been someone there at the synagogue to defend it with guns, things might have turned out differently (similar to his response to the Florida Parkland school shooting. Again, Trump’s comments drew criticism from the media which alleged that he is to blame for fomenting divisiveness in America rather than trying to unite America during times of tragedy. A hate-killing of two African-American people in a supermarket around the same time went almost unreported.)

The question the media asked was this: why doesn’t the President unequivocally denounce such killings as immoral? I propose that the reason is not that (as Bill Maher has speculated) Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder (although that might well be true). The reason is that Trump is (at least implicitly) an ethical egoist. Ethical egoism is a form of consequentialism, like utilitarianism described in the previous chapter. In particular, for an ethical egoist, no action or policy is in itself immoral (so e.g. the murder of journalists, destroying the environment for profit etc. would be not only morally permissible but morally required on this view as long as it furthers one’s own interests).

Ethical egoism as a form of consequentialism shares the following properties with utilitarianism:

No act or policy is morally right or wrong in itself – an action or policy is only morally right if it produces the best consequences (for me if ethical egoist, or for everyone affected by the outcome if utilitarian).

There are no moral dilemmas: there is no situation for e.g. Trump, Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren in which no matter what you do you do something wrong. On the ethical egoist view, as long as you do what you think is in your own self interest, you are morally ok. Whether you (as a politician) are helping to cover up Khashoggi’s murder because you don’t want to rock the boat with Saudi Arabia (Trump), or you are lying to protect against your husband’s extra-marital sexual appetite and possibly rapist tendencies (Hillary Clinton) or are just lying about your having lost your job as a public school teacher (Elizabeth Warren), you are an ethical egoist.

Bernie Sanders is not an ethical egoist. He is an honest person.